Employer Branding

7 Ways Flexibility Can Help Create an Age-Friendly Working Environment

With A-Level and GCSE results out this month, and university students graduating this summer, a new pool of talent will be entering the workforce. How can employers look to successfully attract and retain this new generation?

Having previously written about Generation Z’s expectations of the working world one of the key themes we are continuing to see is a desire to move away from the traditional 9 to 5 office hours. However, rather than just focussing on young people’s desire for more flexibility, it makes sense to consider how to create a more inclusive, flexible culture which suits everyone’s lifestyle and working needs, whatever their age; and which will also achieve greater opportunities and benefits for the business.

1. A blended approach to work and play

As new generations enter the workforce, we are seeing a shift in the way people want to work. Rather than having set work and play time, younger employees are looking to blend the two throughout the day. For example, working later into the evening and taking a longer lunch break to go to the gym.

It’s not just younger generations attracted by flexibility in the workplace. A survey by Investors in People showed that a third (34%) of employees would prefer a flexible approach to working hours than a 3% pay rise. Flexibility can help families manage their households and support both parents to successfully progress their careers. People with care responsibilities may appreciate being able to plan their day around challenging home-life demands. And, with the number of people working over the age of 65 having more than doubled, flexibility can appeal to those who are considering a phased retirement.

2. Lateral thinking and fluid working practices

Since 2014, employees in the UK have had a legal right to request flexible working, provided they can prove a business case that works for both parties. It’s important to remember that flexible working practices can be created in many different forms. We are seeing more employers using lateral thinking and creativity to introduce more fluid working practices and to remove any inadvertent barriers to flexible working. Engage in open and honest conversations with employees about how they are looking to strike a balance between work and play, and look for solutions which suit everyone. It could be a mixture of flexitime and extended working hours, through to compressed working hours and the opportunity to be able to work from home as well as in the office.

3. The business benefits

Employers who embrace flexible working are more able to attract and retain a diverse pool of talent. The Aviva Working Lives 2017 report revealed that almost two in three (64%) employees would be more likely to stay with an employer who offered flexible working. Flexibility can also bring additional business benefits, for example BT found that productivity increased by 30% when employees were able to work flexibly and Unison reported that providing flexible working reduced sickness absence from 12% to 2%. It can also improve client relationships as employees who can work from anywhere, and at any time, can be quicker at responding. Businesses can also use it as an opportunity to consider extending working hours, and creating flexible shift patterns within these, increasing the times in which customers can engage with the organisation.

4. Flexibility doesn’t suit everyone

Flexible working will suit some organisations more than others and won’t appeal to every employee. Employees will have different motivations and ideas of work-life balance. For some, keeping work within the office, and conventional working hours, means they know they can switch off once they’ve left the office. Others, particularly younger generations, don’t want a solid barrier between office and leisure time.

Managing the different expectations of employees is the challenge faced by organisations. So how can employers look to create the right balance?

5. A change in culture

The overall aim should be on developing a company culture which is focussed on results and outcomes and not the amount of time spent in the office. Employers will need to challenge any persisting cultures of presenteeism and negative stereotypes associated with flexible working. Employees need to be confident that they won’t be judged or have their progression opportunities hindered if they adopt a more flexible approach. Generation Z in particular is focussed on working smartly, rather than working long hours. But will be quickly disengaged if faced with a rolling of the eyes every time they get up to leave their desks earlier than others.

6. Performance monitoring

It can also help to ensure that the right culture flows from the top-level down if leaders and managers are given training to understand how to fairly assess the contributions and performance of flexible workers. Companies such as Netflix and Virgin, famed for leading the way in adopting flexible working practices, have evolved their performance monitoring to suit this different style of working. With time not being tracked, managers are checking in with their employees on a more regular basis to help keep tabs on whether objectives are being met on time and to standard.

7. Flexible technology

Finally, the flexible working opportunities available will automatically increase if the right technology is in place. Generation Z are already running their lives through a smart phone and communicating within a digital world. Harness these skills and involve younger employees in the IT and marketing strategy. Get them involved in engaging people across the organisation to understand the technology available to them and the flexible opportunities it can provide.

By Gill Buchanan

Gill is a founding Director of Pure Resourcing Solutions has worked in the recruitment field since 1988. Gill’s experience is broad based and includes eight years of specialist recruitment experience within an international specialist recruitment company including five years working within financial services recruitment in Sydney, Australia.